Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus

Rick Perlstein writes in 2001:

Goldwater’s approach to any political problem invariably derived from the evidence of his own eyes—an attitude most visible in his views on discrimination. “There never was a lot of it,” he recalled of the Phoenix of his youth. Yet when he was eleven the chamber of commerce took out an ad boasting of Phoenix’s “very small percentage of Mexicans, Negroes, or foreigners.” Barry Goldwater delighted in, and journalists delighted in repeating, his corny put-downs of anti-Semites. Why couldn’t he play nine holes, he was supposed to have responded when kicked off a golf course, since he was only half Jewish? They reported how when he took over as president of Phoenix Country Club in 1949, he said if they didn’t allow his friend Harry Rosenzweig to join he would blackball every name. Rosenzweig became the first Jew the club ever admitted. Left out of the tale was that another Jew wasn’t allowed in for a decade.
Later he would be described as a political innocent. This was not exactly true. Never a ruthless politician, he was ever a politician, with a classic politician’s upbringing: a doting mother who convinced him he could accomplish everything; a distant, moody father who convinced him that no accomplishment was enough.

* At the 1948 convention Minneapolis mayor Hubert H. Humphrey declared it was “time for the Democratic Party to get out of the shadow of states’ rights and walk in the sunshine of human rights,” and he maneuvered a robust civil rights plank into the platform. South Carolina governor Strom Thurmond led a walkout to form a third party.
Southern Democrats claimed the gestures toward civil rights were only demagogic and expedient attempts to hustle the votes of urban blacks in the North so the party could turn its back on the South. But where else could Southerners go? Until about 1958, Republicans were more liberal on race than the Democrats were (although it wasn’t hard to take a liberal stand on race so long as it was seen as a Southern problem, and the Republicans didn’t have any white Southerners to placate).

* data from U2 spy planes had demonstrated that the USSR’s arsenal of bombers and missiles that could reach the United States was nearly nonexistent. But that intelligence was top secret, unknown even to a New York governor—a rule of espionage being that you can’t let your enemy know what you know about them. (“I can’t understand the United States being quite as panicky as they are,” Eisenhower once said, forgetting that he was one of only a handful of people who knew that the empire that threatened to bury us could in fact do no such thing.)

* It was point nine of the fourteen points that the Southerners were protesting [at the 1960 Republican convention]: “Our program for civil rights must assure aggressive action to remove the remaining vestiges of segregation or discrimination in all areas of national life—voting and housing, schools and jobs. It will express support for the objectives of the sit-in demonstrators and will commend the action of those businessmen who have abandoned the practice of refusing to serve food at their lunch counters to their Negro customers and will urge all others to follow their example.”

* [In 1961] the Rabbinical Council of America recommended construction of bomb shelters beneath all new synagogues.

* [In 1962] Nobody seemed to worry over the fact that Goldwater’s momentum rose the more the peace was disturbed.

* An insider explained the mystery to Life magazine: “People fail to realize there’s a difference in kinds of money. There’s old money and there’s new money. Old money has political power but new money has only purchasing power. Sure, everyone knows that when you get to a convention, you don’t buy delegates. But you do put the pressure on people who control the delegates—the people who owe the old money for their stake.”

* It was hard for white America to see anything benign in a mass gathering of Negroes. The fears were primal, subliminal. “I don’t like to touch them. It just makes me squeamish,” one Northerner told Newsweek. Another said, “It’s the idea of rubbing up against them. It won’t rub off, but it don’t feel right either.” The magazine’s polling showed that 55 percent of whites would object to living next door to a black person—and 90 percent would object if their teenage daughter dated one. Over half thought that “Negroes laugh a lot,” “tend to have less ambition,” and “smell different.” “It is an oft-repeated statement among humans that the color of the hair and the pigment of the skin produce certain recognizable characteristics,” observed the latest edition of Training You to Train Your Dog by Blanche Saunders (preface by Walter Lippmann)—the “excitable nature” of those with dark skin, for example. “If this be true, there is no reason why color of coat and pigmentation should not affect dogs as well.” In an article that year, Harper’s editor John Fischer congratulated himself for his courage in pointing out that much antiblack prejudice “is not altogether baseless”: “Take the case of five Negro drivers who worked for a taxi company in Williamsburg, Virginia. On the first day of the fishing season, not one of them showed up for work.” Even among the right-thinking and the respectable, seeing Negroes as civic equals was sometimes a stretch.

* As early as his 1922 book Public Opinion, Walter Lippmann had come to believe that the world was so complex that political decisions would best be left to a specialized class of experts. Three years later the Scopes “monkey trial” confirmed his conviction that a public uninstructed by expert opinion would succumb to the tyranny of the majority—the very worst tyranny of all. Ideologically, the columnist vacillated from decade to decade, sometimes coming out liberal in foreign affairs and conservative in domestic, sometimes vice versa. But always, always, his thinking betrayed a constant: that he and his fellow pundits—Hindi for “wise men,” a title first given to him by an admiring Henry Luce—were the nation’s best defense against the terror of the mob.

* George Wallace appeared at Kennedy’s alma mater, Harvard, and as the flower of American youth approached the microphone to show up a yokel, one by one they were folded up into a master debater’s pocket.

* Newsweek’ s “What the White Man Thinks About the Negro” issue, out recently, concluded, “Except for civil-rights troubles, Mr. Kennedy could expect re-election by a landslide.” Now, the newsmagazine concluded, “he could lose.” A Look feature was headlined, “ ‘Never Wrong’ Iowa Township Forecasts the 1961 race: JFK Could Lose.” The citizens were split down the middle on who they preferred for President—but they agreed that they held the White House responsible for racial violence. “I think Kennedy is too damned lenient with them damned niggers,” one local farmer was quoted as saying. George Wallace, back from his successful Ivy League tour, proudly read his mail for a Time reporter: “‘God willin’ I won’t vote for Martin Luther Kennedy…. You have my vote in the Presidential election.’ That’s from Detroit. Dayton, Ohio … ‘Strongly recommend you to run for President Against Nigger Kennedy …’” Wallace said he was thinking about entering some Democratic primaries.

* Nixon called J. Edgar Hoover. No small talk: “What happened, was it one of the right-wing nuts?”
Much of the country had already decided it was. The Voice of America’s bulletin announcing the shooting had described Dallas as “the center of the extreme right wing.” Clips of Adlai Stevenson being jabbed with anti-United Nations picket signs a month earlier were shown again and again on TV. Under the headline “DALLAS, LONG A RADICAL’S HAVEN,” the Herald Tribune pointed out, “Texas is one of the few states that has a Senator ranking with Arizona’s Barry Goldwater in conservatism”—that was John Tower, who, in the wake of the assassination, had to put up his family in a hotel because of the threats against them. Senator Maurine Neuberger of Oregon fixed her gaze at the television cameras and pinned the responsibility on H. L. Hunt. Walter Cronkite, on the air nonstop, was handed a slip of paper amid the chaos of CBS’s studios and read aloud that Goldwater’s reaction to the news while hustling to a political function had been a curt “No comment.” (Cronkite skirted libel: Goldwater, in Muncie for the funeral of his mother-in-law, had given no such interview.) A deranged gunman pumped two shots through the window of a John Birch Society office in Phoenix, crying “You killed my man!” In man-in-the-street interviews, a lawyer told the New York Times, “We have allowed certain factions to work up such a furor in the South with fanatic criticism of the office of President that a demented person can feel confident that such atrocious action is justifiable,” and a Russian immigrant said, “I’m angry at these groups who call themselves Americans and don’t know the meaning—the Birchers, General Walker. Is this what they wanted?”

Before long the news of the arrest of Lee Harvey Oswald, a defector to the Soviet Union, was on the street. But the suspicion that the right was somehow to blame did not go away.

* Partly the irrationality was rooted in fear; the thought that the killer was an agent of the Communist conspiracy was almost too awful to contemplate. (Desperate to close off such suspicions, which he thought might pin him to a commitment to retaliate against the Soviet Union, Lyndon Johnson spent much of his first weeks in office maneuvering hurriedly to close the books on the case by putting together a commission of inquiry led by Chief Justice Warren.) When the news of Oswald’s arrest and Communist ties arrived, the public seemed almost willfully to forget the lessons of eighteen years—that Communism was a devious, unitary global conspiracy that would stop at nothing to accomplish its aims—and gladly chose another, less threatening scapegoat. Against the shocks of the recent past—the civil rights uprising, the nuclear close calls—Americans had inoculated themselves by repeating ever more fervidly that we were a good nation, a unified nation, peaceful, safe. The assassination was experienced as a sign that somehow America had let herself become the opposite. A word was repeated again and again, on the streets, before the television cameras, in the newspapers: hate. Americans read an indictment on themselves: hate killed Kennedy, our own hate—hate that might consume us in violence, hate rife on both sides of the ideological spectrum, hate bred precisely by the act of veering too close to the extremes of the ideological spectrum. Extremism had killed Kennedy.

* Kennedy had been right: Goldwater’s loose lips were sinking the ship. Newsweek quoted a supporter: “I’m glad he has one foot in a cast or he’d have that in his mouth, too.” The AP’s Walter Mears—who had to file stories every few hours—remarked that all they had to do was pepper Goldwater with a few questions and wait for him to slip, and they had their headlines. Then it was back to the nonstop frat party at the Manchester Sheraton.

* It had been a busy winter for George Wallace. There was Alabama to keep segregated, for one thing. There was his ego to attend to, for another. In November the governor had undertaken a weeklong tour of Ivy League colleges. Then he took the show national. First he honed the act, blue-penciling his speechwriters’ racist turns of phrase, having his aide Bill Jones pepper him with every hostile question they could think of. Audiences, expecting a monster, were charmed by talk of how “property rights are human rights, too”—so sweet it almost sounded sensible, yet so incendiary that he led the evening news everywhere he spoke.

* If Washington “can tell you what to do with your property, they can take it away from you,” he would say; and, “I don’t think it’s my right as an Arizonan to come in and tell a Southerner what to do about this thing.” He would speak of good intentions gone awry: “I can see a police state coming out of that without any problem at all.” In Jeremiah mode, he might say how much it sickened him to see questions of law being settled in the streets and wonder why the Democrats would sink so low as to tacitly support such tactics: “It is not understanding America or Americans that goads a man to abandon civility in this matter,” he said the night after the World’s Fair debacle (to an audience in Connecticut, only a commuter train ride away from the mob). He said again and again, “with the deepest possible sense of tragedy and regret,” that at bottom, this was a problem of moral suasion, not of laws. Federal force only compounded the problem. “Until we have an administration that will cool the fires and the tempers of violence we simply cannot solve the rest of the problem in any lasting sense.” Until then, he promised, “we are going to see more violence in our streets before we see less.” All spring, Northern college students had been training with military rigor for a nonviolent assault for voting rights in Mississippi—while that state was planning to counter them with all the terror at its disposal. Goldwater bespoke his frustration with Mississippi as the state “where there is the most talk about brotherhood and the very least opportunity for achieving it.” But the civil rights bill as written, he was convinced, would only make things worse. It was unconstitutional—and if Negroes didn’t have a stake in the Constitution, then who did?

* But Goldwater didn’t play well on TV. Letters and numbers darkened his presentations: RS-70 and B-70 (bomber programs the Pentagon was scrapping); A-11 (a plane Lyndon Johnson claimed was a new fighter but Goldwater said was really just a reconnaissance plane); TFX (a fighter General Dynamics was building in Lyndon Johnson’s Texas despite the brass’s insistence it could be built better and more cheaply in California); 1970 (by which time a bomber gap would turn “the shield of the Republic into a Swiss cheese wall”).

* Property values had become religion amidst the sun-dappled lawns of suburban southern California. “The essence of freedom is the right to discriminate,” CRA’s Nolan Frizzelle explained. “In socialist countries, they always take away this right in order to complete their takeover.” After the state legislature passed a bill prohibiting racial discrimination in housing, it hardly took the blink of an eye for the California Real Estate Association’s new “Committee for Home Protection” to collect 583,029 signatures—326,486 from L.A. County alone—to put on the November ballot Proposition 14, an amendment to the state constitution prohibiting for all time laws that impinged upon the right of individuals to sell or rent property to “any persons as he, in his absolute discretion, chooses”—segregationism in its politer, more patriotic form. The California Real Estate Association’s billboards soon blanketed the state: “FREEDOM: RENT OR SELL TO WHOM YOU CHOOSE: VOTE YES ON 14.” (“DON’T LEGALIZE HATE,” read the enfeebled opposition’s.) The Los Angeles Times —which had endorsed Nelson Rockefeller—agreed, more or less, with Nolan Frizzelle: “Housing equality cannot safely be achieved at the expense of still another basic right,” the “ancient right” of the property owner of “using and disposing of his private property in whatever manner he deems appropriate.” The argument couldn’t withstand scrutiny; after all, no one complained that owners were constrained from disposing of their private property in whatever manner they deemed appropriate when they inked formal and (after the Supreme Court outlawed them in 1948) informal racial covenants. And not all support for Prop 14 was couched so patriotically: blacks “haven’t made themselves acceptable” for white neighborhoods, a Young Republican leader declared. Polls showed that 58 percent of voters of both parties supported Prop 14. Goldwater held fast to the position that it wasn’t his right as an Arizonan to come in and tell a Californian what to do about this thing.

* And Barry Goldwater was affording his audience the warm assurance, “You cannot pass a law that will make me like you—or you like me. That is something that can only happen in our hearts.” Goldwater’s audience was unlikely aware that this was a close paraphrase from the majority opinion in Plessy v. Ferguson: that “prejudice, if it exists, is not created by the law of the land and cannot be changed by the law.” They just gave Goldwater his biggest applause of the speech.

* One piece of homemade campaign literature that was circulating in California like chewing gum, A Choice Not an Echo, came from one of the sophisticated ones. Phyllis Schlafly claimed to be a housewife from Alton, Illinois, and in that she was busy raising five children, in a sense she was. But this housewife had worked her way through college as a test gunner in an ordnance plant, had a master’s degree from Harvard, and devoted forty-plus hours a week to right-wing agitation—from chairing the Illinois Federation of Republican Women to running the Cardinal Mindzenty Society, a right-wing volunteer group, with her husband, a lawyer who operated the right’s answer to the ACLU (a typical client was a farmer who refused to follow government quotas), and hosting her own radio show, America, Wake Up! The Schlaflys had been among the few nonbusinessmen on the Clarence Manion committee that published Conscience of a Conservative in 1960. Which in 1964 gave Phyllis Schlafly, home pregnant with her sixth child, an inspiration: to publish a slim little book on how “a few secret kingmakers based in New York” conspired to steal Republican conventions, “perpetuating the Red empire in order to perpetrate the high level of Federal spending and control.”

* Schlafly was easy on the eye—and savvy enough to put a picture of herself on the cover that intimated plunging décolletage just out of the frame. The prose was short and sharp: “Each fall 66 million American women don’t spontaneously decide their dresses should be an inch or two shorter, or longer, than last year,” she began. “Like sheep, they bow to the wishes of a select clique of couturiers whom they have never seen, and whose names they may not even know”—just like Republican presidential voters. She never placed an ad; she never contacted a single bookstore—and 600,000 copies were in circulation around the country by June. Most were purchased in lots greater than 100. One businessman bought 30,000. One man told her, “Your book is the first book I ever read. I couldn’t even get through Tom Sawyer.”

* Phyllis Schlafly was not the only political star from Illinois being minted in California that spring. Another was Ronald Reagan. A number of more famous pro-Goldwater celebrities worked the homestretch hustings for Goldwater. But it was Reagan, not John Wayne (a sometime Bircher) or Rock Hudson, who was chosen to narrate a half hour of testimonials from Goldwater’s (especially black and Hispanic) friends on statewide television on May 29. As a regular MC for Goldwater’s rallies, Reagan usually stole the show. “And good evening to all you irresponsible Republicans,” he would begin, and the crowd would be won; then he would hand them off to Goldwater, and the crowd would be lost. Sometimes, when the evening’s program was completed, Reagan would greedily mount the rostrum for another speech that brought them to their feet one last time. At a San Francisco fund-raiser a startled waitress asked Rus Walton, “I’m confused. Which one was the candidate?”

* In Riverside, California, Barry Goldwater was proving once again that there was nothing like a homestretch to bring him to the rhetorical heights a more motivated politician would have occupied all along.

* It was now hard to imagine a scenario in which Barry Goldwater would not be nominated. He responded to the news by drinking so much he had to be helped onto the plane back to Washington.

* When the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was signed on July 2, Johnson told his staff, “I think we just gave the South to the Republicans for your lifetime and mine”.

* It immediately became clear that in this court of opinion at least, the Republican Party was Goldwater’s and Goldwater’s alone. For when the speakers reminded the audience of the GOP’s glorious history of advancing civil rights, they were answered by laughs and boos.

* Scranton left it to his press office to point up the truly impolitic statements in the Der Spiegel article: Goldwater’s contention that Germany would have won both world wars if she weren’t subject to the command of men “who didn’t understand war”; and that in Vietnam, “I would turn to my Joint Chiefs of Staff and say, ‘Fellows, we made the decision to win, now it’s your problem.’ ”

* Saturday evening, two days before the opening gavel, Walter Cronkite introduced a report from CBS’s correspondent in Munich, Daniel Schorr: “Whether or not Senator Goldwater wins the nomination, he is going places,” Cronkite said, “the first place being Germany.” Schorr picked up the cue and started in: “It looks as though Senator Goldwater, if nominated, will be starting his campaign here in Bavaria, the center of Germany’s right wing.” He went on to report that Goldwater had accepted an invitation from his friend Lieutenant General William Quinn to visit him for a vacation at Berchtesgaden—“once Hitler’s stamping ground, but now an American Army recreational center.” He concluded, “It is now becoming clear that Senator Goldwater’s interview with the newsmagazine Der Spiegel was an appeal to right-wing elements.” Cronkite segued into the next piece, on the latest burning of a Negro church in Mississippi, and the Germany story hit San Francisco like a freight train.

It was false; the trip was a vacation. CBS president William Paley, enraged and afraid he would be outed as a Scranton supporter, ordered Schorr to correct himself on the air. Goldwater’s grudge against the Tiffany Network went back to a 1962 documentary on conservatism that made him want to throw something at the screen. It flared up again in 1963 after CBS News edited a tape of a July 4 interview with him that he thought would be broadcast live; it was inflamed enormously when Cronkite misquoted him to make him appear callous after the Kennedy assassination. “I just don’t trust CBS News,” is what he said after the November 22 gaffe. Now he went berserk. “I don’t think those people should be allowed to broadcast,” he said, refusing them access to any part of his campaign organization. But the damage was done. Scranton—and the Democratic National Committee—had already distributed reams of Xeroxed transcripts of the Schorr stand-up. “You can say what you want about Goldwater’s conservatism and right-wing views,” columnist Herb Caen wrote, “but personally, I find him as American as apple strudel.”

* The President was now drowning in a flood of wires such as “I’m afraid to leave my house. I fear the Negro revolution will reach Queens.” The New Republic’s TRB columnist had called white resentment 1964’s political “X-Factor.” Walter Lippmann had coined the term “Goldwater Democrats.” Backlash had become Lyndon Johnson’s new obsession. When Ollie Quayle prepared a fifty-five-page technical report on the blue-collar Wallace vote in Wisconsin and Indiana, Johnson devoured it in one night. When Wallace withdrew his candidacy on July 19—because, he said, the Republicans had passed a segregationist platform—Goldwater was genuinely surprised.

* The day arrived. An exquisitely labored statement of the President’s position sat on his desk for reference. Johnson ushered his guest into the Oval Office. There followed an awkward interval. The President was waiting for Goldwater to start, because Goldwater had called the meeting. When he didn’t, Johnson uttered some banalities about how he would do nothing in the months to come that might contribute to violence in the streets. Goldwater said that was fine. Johnson lurched deskward and read his statement aloud. Goldwater thought that was fine, too, and asked for a copy. Another pause. Goldwater’s face lit up like a child discussing a toy, and he said he would love to take a crack at flying the new A-II that was in development. Johnson (hiding his incredulity) said it wouldn’t be ready for a year—at which time, he joked, Goldwater might be the one issuing the orders. Chuckles were exchanged. Backs were slapped. Sixteen minutes had elapsed. The two emerged together to release a bland joint statement. Johnson’s staff was stunned. “What a confrontation,” someone said. “Wish we could have one like that with de Gaulle!”

* Johnson had converted to a civil rights crusade more fervent than any President’s since Lincoln. And what had that brought? Race riots, two weeks after the Civil Rights Act was signed. What more could he do? “If you give ’em jobs and education, you stop all of it,” he told Hubert Humphrey, sounding as if he were trying to convince himself.

* A melancholy man, Lyndon Johnson understood how souls were moved by dark thoughts that crept up on sleepless nights. “Men worry about heart attacks,” he would say, clasping his chest. “Women worry about cancer of the tit” (here he jabbed the breastplate of his nearest companion). “But everybody worries about war and peace. Everything else is chickenshit.”

* The ad ran Monday, September 7—Labor Day, for peak viewing—on NBC, a few days after Goldwater’s opening speech in Prescott and a few hours after Johnson’s in Detroit. Nobody had ever seen anything like it. Little girls went to bed in tears. Bill Moyers, working late in his office—as was most often the case in Lyndon Johnson’s White House—was summoned by the boss. “Holy shit!” the President cried. “What in the hell do you mean putting on that ad? I’ve been swamped with calls!” But he was chuckling. “I guess it did what we goddamned set out to do, didn’t it?” He chuckled some more.
The spot ran only once as a paid commercial. But CBS and ABC ran reports on the phenomenon on their news programs—and thus, free of charge, they aired the ad itself. Dean Burch complained to the Fair Campaign Practices Commission. “This horror-type commercial,” he said, “implies that Senator Goldwater is a reckless man and Lyndon Johnson is a careful man.” Moyers was thrilled. “That’s exactly what we wanted to imply,” he wrote the President. “And we also hoped someone around Goldwater would say it, not us.” Local campaign leaders told Johnson’s field chief, Larry O’Brien, that they hated the ad, that voters were turning off to LBJ. The White House was unfazed. They were thinking like Marshall McLuhan, like Bill Bernbach: the message people reported having gleaned from the ad bore no necessary relation to how it affected them where it counted—in the place consciousness didn’t touch.

* New York came close to further rioting after a grand jury refused to indict the officer whose bullet set off the July disturbance ; that same week, white parents pulled their children out of New York schools to protest what the Republican platform called “federally sponsored ‘inverse discrimination’ … the abandonment of neighborhood schools, for reasons of race.” Blunter, one protester carried a sign reading “YOU’LL TURN INTO A NIGGER.” (The seething issue had by then earned a journalistic shorthand: “busing,” sometimes spelled “bussing.”) Another court ordered union locals to dismantle father-son apprenticeship programs that “automatically excluded” Negroes. One of Johnson’s advance men filed a report on the comments of a New York cabbie: “He exploded—traffic terrible, Negroes pushing, city in snarl, politicians ruining country, everything a mess. Pent-up fury.” He found similar sentiments among four of the seven hacks he met. The AFL-CIO budgeted $12 million for education efforts to counter the myth that the Civil Rights Act demanded hiring quotas based on race.

* Goldwater’s speeches earned descriptions like “low-keyed,” “listless,” “monotone,” and “stumbling”—as if, someone wrote, the candidate were saying, “Train 28 now leaving on Track 1.” The speeches themselves were so inappropriate to their occasions that The New Yorker’s Richard Rovere was rubbing his eyes: “There were some times, traveling with Goldwater,” he wrote, “when one wondered whether the candidate really thinks of himself as a man seeking the Presidency of the United States.”

* The bulwark in the maelstrom was William Moyers—as he was in most matters in Lyndon Johnson’s White House. LBJ reserved his greatest affection for brilliant young climbers from the provinces who looked up to him as a father figure—as he had himself with a series of mentors culminating in House Speaker Sam Rayburn. (It betokened his insecurities; he still couldn’t quite believe these geniuses were willing to yoke their fortune to him.) Moyers was the most brilliant and loyal climber of all.

* The reporters liked Barry Goldwater personally (“How could such a nice guy think that way?” one asked). Two traveling publicists ministered efficiently to their every need. That was far less than enough to make the experience a pleasant one. They had missed the story of how Goldwater won the nomination, which was humiliating to their professional pride; it also meant twice as much work for reporters, because none of the people in the campaign were in their little black books.

* Lyndon Johnson’s relationship with his traveling press corps was altogether different: they protected him. The President’s tongue was if anything more undisciplined than his opponent’s… On his way to opening day in Detroit, in order to squeeze as many VIPs into his plane as possible, he booted onto an accompanying plane the military aide who kept the briefcase handcuffed to his wrist that contained the codes to launch a nuclear strike. That plane nearly ended up crashing. Reporters looked the other way. “Thank God for Lyndon Johnson,” a scribe from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch thought to himself, as the President lit into Goldwater once more as a “ranting, raving demagogue who wants to tear down society.”

* Stodgy Time printed crude jokes: “Goldwater’s first major address as President: ‘Ten … nine … eight … seven …’ ”; “What would a Goldwater presidency be like? Brief.” In Tulsa, blacks crashed the hall where Goldwater was speaking and wouldn’t stop singing “We Shall Overcome” for fifteen minutes straight. In Winston-Salem, civil rights activists and conservatives were booked for assaulting one another. Each had begun chanting their opposing stories about freedom, slavery, and justice at the other; things escalated from there. (Teddy White liked to ask civil rights demonstrators and Goldwater partisans what they meant by “freedom.” Each camp would denounce him for even asking such a patronizing question. “It is quite possible that these two groups may kill each other in cold blood,” he wrote, “both wearing banners bearing the same word.”)

* Everywhere Goldwater went, some Republican or another refused an invitation to share his platform; everywhere he left, he seemed to leave townspeople at each others’ throats. “Crowds were more violent than anything a Presidential candidate has had to face in the last generation,” James Reston columnized. “Supporters of Mr. Goldwater declared they could not discuss the campaign with Democrats on a rational basis,” his paper’s news pages reported. “Democrats said the Goldwaterites were too rabid for reason.”

* Goldwater put forward new policy proposals. But his speeches mostly demonstrated the inability or indifference of his team to communicate unfamiliar ideas. Like his previous proposals—the draft ban, the tax cut, replacing federal programmatic grants with block grants—there was no follow-through, little repetition in future speeches, so the proposals floated around in the public’s consciousness for a day or so before popping like soap bubbles.

* Indeed, when Milton Friedman published an article in the next Sunday’s New York Times Magazine on “The Goldwater View of Economics,” he had to protest, “No one seems to realize that Goldwater does have a philosophy and not merely views on particular economic problems.” He proceeded to give readers of the Newspaper of Record a kindergarten primer on economic libertarianism: that providing for the common defense was a precondition for economic freedom, so that it wasn’t contradictory for Goldwater to call for increased military spending; that only the free market, not the government, could produce prosperity; that governmental interventions often created baleful unintended consequences. The public clearly had a long way to go to attain even an elementary understanding of Goldwater’s core ideas.

* Barry Goldwater, on the plane to Chicago from Missouri (where he had ripped the knee of his best mohair suit), felt hardly more at ease. He would write about the whole business later, in a 1970 memoir, his words edged with the sting of four years of enforced political idleness—because after winning the Republican nomination, he could no longer run for Senate in 1964. “Very early in the last decade,” he wrote, “I found myself becoming a political fulcrum of the vast and growing tide of American disenchantment with the public policies of liberalism.” There it was: controlled by events, following others’ call, a horse to be ridden. Nothing had changed since those meetings with Clarence Manion and his people in 1959—back when Goldwater had all but turned them down flat. “It is true enough that I sensed it early and sympathized with it publicly, but I did not originate it…. I was caught up in and swept along by this tide of disenchantment.” It is harder to imagine a sharper expression of political alienation.

* Harry Jaffa and Bill Rehnquist finally came up with an acceptable draft for Goldwater’s speech. It was called “Civil Rights and the Common Good,” and it was polished all the way up to the last minute.

* The President held crowds to a hush as he dramatically related the tale of sitting beside Kennedy (he hadn’t) in October of 1962, as Khrushchev and Kennedy came “eyeball to eyeball, and their thumbs started getting closer to mash that nuclear button, the knife was in each other’s ribs, almost literally speaking, and neither of them were flinching or quivering”—“until Mr. Khrushchev picked up his missiles and put them on his ships and took them back home.” He told, in other words, bedtime stories: the child’s deepest fears are aroused, to be safely assuaged when the scary monster under the bed is vanquished and everything turns out right at the end.

* Only once did he devote an entire speech to how “the moral fiber of the American people is beset by rot and decay.” It was broadcast on TV from the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City. It was the highest-rated nonpresidential political address in the history of television—a fact, of course, that the candidate likely ignored as a point of pride. But “morality” was political gold. It was the only Goldwater theme that the White House felt compelled to react to. But Johnson’s people weren’t exactly sure how. Memos flew back and forth: Enlist “a group of friendly criminologists”? “Judicious use of the candidate’s family,” “inclusion of prominent women”? Public appearances with Billy Graham and Cardinal Spellman?
They were floundering. No other presidential candidate had tried staking a political claim for these issues before Goldwater. They had never been at issue before.

* “The sexual pervert’s … lack of emotional stability,” as a government report put it, “and weakness of moral fiber make him susceptible to the blandishments of foreign agents.” In 1953 Eisenhower signed an executive order demanding homosexuals be fired not just from all federal jobs but from all companies with federal contractors—one-fifth of the U.S. workforce.

* In the previous twenty-four hours, China had detonated its first nuclear weapon; Harold Wilson was ousted as British prime minister; and Khrushchev was removed as Soviet premier, with no heir immediately apparent. Suddenly, with the Kremlin in turmoil, warnings of imminent danger from Russia just sounded paranoid. And paradoxically, with China more dangerous than ever, the terror rubbed off on whomever should dare mention the forbidden subject of the bomb—which, of course, Goldwater continued to do. His momentum bogged down. Politics was on hold. Suddenly, the nation was interested in little more than having a steady hand on the tiller.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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